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How Juan Rivera could stick around with Dodgers another year

August 22, 2011 |  6:25 am

Photo: Juan Rivera

Want to know what Don Mattingly’s favorite comment always is about Juan Rivera?

"He gives us a professional at-bat."

This is supposed to be a compliment, though it makes you wonder what he thinks of most everyone else’s at-bats, or at least those in the lineup when Rivera is not.

But acquired during the All-Star break from the Blue Jays, Rivera has certainly been an upgrade (.327 batting, .365 on-base, .481 slugging) over Marcus Thames. He has sort of been what the Dodgers hoped Thames – another ex-Yankee – would be.

Most of the time he has batted fifth, the thinking being at least his threat of the home run provides Matt Kemp with a modicum of protection. Or anyway, more than Aaron Miles.

All fine, but you figure this is a short-term deal, hardly the future and Rivera, 33, is most certainly headed elsewhere after he becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

Which is probably correct, but not necessarily. Rivera earned $5.25 million this year, so if he believes he can even approach that figure with the Dodgers, he can forget about finding a year-round residence in the L.A. area now.

The Dodgers, just in case you possibly have forgotten, are bankrupt. And no one is optimistic things will be resolved before next spring. Which means a still shrinking player payroll.

But as everyone said last offseason, someone has to play left field. And if the Dodgers to not tender James Loney, also first base.

Two positions Rivera just happens to play, though no one is confusing him with Loney defensively.

The likelihood that the Dodgers are going to sign either first baseman Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols seems side-splittingly laughable, however logical it is the real world (read: one wthout Frank McCourt as owner).

The minor-league candidates are Jerry Sands and Scott Van Slyke, who each play outfield and first base. Both are promising, though it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers planning on opening the 2012 season starting both rookies.

I’m not completely convinced the Dodgers aren’t yet going to offer Loney arbitration. His 2010 season hardly puts him in line for a big raise over the $4.875 million he’s making this year. If they bring him back, that leaves just one rookie in the lineup.

But if he is gone, that gives the return of Rivera for one season more credence. Assuming he’s willing to take a serious pay cut. Remember, though, the Dodgers gave Rod Barajas $3.25 million last offseason.

And if nothing else, Rivera does offer that professional at-bat.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Juan Rivera. Credit: Barry Gutierrez / Associated Press.